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Terror watchdog Max Hill snubs Theresa May’s plans to fine tech firms over extremist content

Max Hill QC, the UK’s terror watchdog, has rebuffed Theresa May’s plans to fine tech firms that fail to remove extremist content from their platforms.

The Prime Minister announced last night that the government is drawing up proposals with France to crack down on terrorist propaganda online.

But speaking on the Today programme this morning, Mr Hill cast doubt upon the necessity of the plans.

“In Germany, there was a proposal for very heavy fines to be levied against tech companies whenever they fail to take down extreme content. Is that absolutely necessary? I’m not sure that it is,” said Mr Hill.

He added that social media firms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube, are already working with police forces to address the issue.

“I’ve sat with the relevant police unit when they identify extreme content. I’ve seen them communicating with tech companies and I’ve seen the cooperation that flows from that. It’s a question of the bulk of the material rather than a lack of cooperation in dealing with it,” said Mr Hill.

Mrs May has not yet been revealed the size of the fines set to be imposed upon under proposals, but in Germany ministers have approved plans to fine firms up to €50m (£44m).

Last month, tech firms hit back at the Prime Minister after she accused them of creating a safe space for extremists.

Speaking on the steps of Downing Street the day after the London terror attack, Mrs May warned that social networks had not done enough to curb the spread of extremist content.

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed — yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services, provide,” she said.

But tech firms rejected Mrs May’s claims, saying that they already carry out the work that she is calling for.

Google said it has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on fighting abuse. A spokesperson for the Silicon Valley firm told New Statesman Tech: “We employ thousands of people and invest hundreds of millions of pounds to fight abuse on our platforms and ensure we are part of the solution to addressing these challenges.”